Appeals court refuses to stop dog clubs from docking tails

NEW YORK, March 2003 - Requiring a dog to have an amputated tail to compete successfully in a Kennel Club show may be discriminatory but it is not illegal, a state appeals court ruled as it dismissed a dog lover's lawsuit.

Jon H. Hammer, a Manhattan lawyer, sued the American Kennel Club two years ago, trying to eliminate show standards that require some breeds to have amputated, or "docked," tails. He called docking a cruel violation of state law.

Hammer, owner of a Brittany spaniel with a 10-inch tail, said docking is done without anesthesia for cosmetic reasons and has no physical benefit for the animal. AKC standards say a Brittany's tail should be no more than four inches long.

Breed experts said the dog was originally bred to hunt, and the docked tail was meant to protect the appendage from injury. They also said veterinarians now use anesthesia during the amputation.

The State Supreme Court's Appellate Division, upholding a lower court decision by Justice Barbara Kapnick, ruled 3-2 Thursday that the state animal cruelty law under which Hammer sued must be enforced by law enforcement agencies.

The court said Hammer lacked "standing" _ the legal right _ to sue to change the AKC's policies. Civil remedies, such as an injunction to end a practice that possibly violates a penal law, are usually not available to individuals, the court wrote.

The appeals court refused to state whether tail docking was in fact a crime. The panel said Hammer was seeking "an impermissible advisory opinion" which the court gives only if there are no questions of fact and the sole question is one of law.

Hammer also argued that the AKC standards in effect discriminated against dog owners who refused to mutilate their animals. He said the standards barred his dog, a brown and white 2{-year-old named "Spooner," from meaningful competition.

The court dismissed that part of Hammer's complaint, saying, "The right to compete ... in dog shows is not a legally protected right. In any event, a Brittany Spaniel with an undocked tail is, in fact, permitted to compete;... he simply loses points for the dog's tail length."

"Dog tail length, like dog height, is not a consideration protected by state of federal anti-discrimination law," the panel's majority wrote.

Neither Hammer nor his lawyer, Joseph P. Foley, replied to calls seeking comment.